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Spymaster Kameru: Uhuru’s last man standing in Ruto top security circle

On September 27, 2022 when President William Ruto unveiled his Cabinet, he also revealed that Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai had requested to serve the remainder of his four-year term on leave on account of deteriorating health.

In the same address, President Ruto announced that former National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi would serve as Kenya’s eighth post-independence Attorney-General, replacing former judge Kihara Kariuki.

Aden Duale was named Defence CS in place of Eugene Wamalwa. Alfred Mutua became Foreign Affairs CS, replacing Raychelle Omamo as Prof Kithure Kindiki took over the Interior docket from Dr Fred Matiang’i.

Within months, the face of Kenya’s National Security Council (NSC) – the nine-member exclusive club that is the country’s top decision making organ – had changed.

The exit of Gen Robert Kibochi from the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has left only one man standing in the country’s most critical security organ — National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director-General Philip Wachira Kameru.

Maj Gen Kameru has been Kenya’s highest ranking spy since 2014 when President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed him to replace Michael Gichangi.

The NSC is the heartbeat of Kenya’s safety as it formulates domestic, foreign and military policies related to national security.

Whenever something, or someone, threatens to create anarchy in the country, it is the NSC that comes up with a formula to bump back.

Responses by the NSC are usually calculated based on intelligence reports, making the NIS one of the institution’s most crucial cogs.

The NSC supervises Kenya’s security organs, civilian and military.

Under the NSC Act, the institution is headed by the President.

Other members are the Deputy President, Chief of the KDF, the Attorney-General, Police Inspector-General, the NIS Director-General and Cabinet Secretaries in charge of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Internal Security. The President leads meetings of the NSC.

President Ruto and Mr Kameru are no strangers. The top spy furnished Dr Ruto, as Deputy President, with intelligence briefings and reports for years.

But in the run-up to the 2022 General Election, Dr Ruto all but branded Maj Gen Kameru part of the so-called “system” supporting the Azimio presidential candidate following claims by former Interior CS Karanja Kibicho that the NIS had predicted a win for Raila Odinga based on intelligence gathering.

The President’s party in 2022 wrote to Mr Kameru seeking to establish whether Dr Kibicho’s claims were true.

“We want to know whether the Director-General authorised and or allowed the release of NIS reports or polling information for the subsequent use by the said PS to advance the interests and cause of the Azimio Party and to undermine the confidence of Kenyans in the fairness of the presidential electoral process,” President Ruto’s UDA said in the letter.

Just hours after the Supreme Court dismissed Azimio la Umoja’s petition challenging the Presidential election, social media was awash with claims that Mr Kameru had resigned. But this was later revealed to be fake. Other quarters have alleged that some influential individuals within the intelligence system could have been quietly backing the UDA campaign.

Mr Kameru was sworn in on September 11, 2014 — less than a month after Michael Gichangi resigned as the NIS boss.

The NIS director-general serves for a five-year term and is eligible for reappointment for one further term.

He is the first ever intelligence boss to be vetted by Parliament before appointment as per requirements of the 2010 Constitution.

During Parliament’s deliberation on his nomination by the President, Saku MP Ali Rasso Dido heaped praise on the man who rose from a second lieutenant to major-general, saying it was no easy feat.

“I served with him in the KDF. General Kameru is a good leader, and I believe he will make a good leader when he goes to the NIS. He is a good listener. I think what we politicians want is that those in the Executive must listen to us and the voices of the people. General Kameru is also a fair, respectable, and professional officer, who has served this country in a colourful career,” Mr Dido said.

The proceedings also revealed that former Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery was one of Mr Kameru’s trainers when he first joined the disciplined forces.

While he cited personal reasons in his resignation, Mr Gichangi left under a cloud of security lapses that saw extremists under the Al-Qaeda terrorist group launch successive attacks on the country.

The Westgate attack in September 2013 was the most pronounced as insurgents claimed at least 71 lives and injured nearly 200 people.

In another attack in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, terrorists killed at least 50 people, a situation that applied pressure on President Kenyatta to take action,

The President tasked Mr Kameru with ending such attacks on Kenya.

Mr Kameru’s top assignment upon assuming office was to curb terror attacks that were largely al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab groups’ reaction to Kenya’s military presence in Somalia.

Kenya’s troops arrived in Somalia in 2011 under Operation Linda Nchi in an attempt to help eliminate al-Shabaab’s threat. Many of Kenya’s troops joined the Africa Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) after Operation Linda Nchi lapsed in 2012.

When Kenyan troops landed in Somalia, Mr Kameru was appointed head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence under Operation Linda Nchi.

Upper hand

Kenya’s relatively smooth penetration of Somalia was largely credited to intelligence gathered by Mr Kameru’s unit, giving him an upper hand when the NIS job became vacant.

Aside from the sparkling military credentials, Mr Kameru also boasts three Masters’ degrees, all in security intelligence.

Parliamentary proceedings indicate that there was no opposition to Mr Kameru’s appointment to head the NIS docket.

Because it took barely two weeks for President Kenyatta to appoint Mr Kameru, the decision appeared to be a no-brainer for the Jubilee government.

Just seven months into office, the insurgents allied to al-Shabaab attacked Garissa University and killed 148 people. Then Interior minister Joseph Nkaissery later admitted that security agencies ignored intelligence that could have helped thwart the attack.

Despite the overall security sector failure, Mr Kameru appeared to have been reforming the NIS as the institution had done its job in gathering information relevant to national security.

In 2019, Mr Kameru’s five-year term was about to end when speculation started that a replacement was being lined up.

But President Kenyatta instead renewed his term by another five years, which ends in 2024.

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